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Most Japanese used to think of Aomori merely as the place you caught the ferry to when you were going to Hokkaido. By the time you’d gotten here, they figured, you were pretty much at the edge of the civilized world. The small Tsugaru Strait that separates Honshu from Hokkaido isn’t big—only about 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) at its narrowest point—but it’s ecologically important: Hokkaido has animals related to northern Asia, whereas Honshu’s are more closely related to southern Asia’s. The strait is also famous for sudden, very rough weather and for no shortage of shipwrecks. The city was flattened in World War II, so there isn’t much history left to see. Still, it’s a lovely area, not much congestion or development, and because the town is still the major gateway to Hokkaido, the city has money to spend on architecture and parks. Its setting on the edge of Mutsu Bay means you will often be surprised by lovely water views through the buildings. The old way of thinking of Aomori is over. Aomori may not be quite what most people think of when they plan a Japan trip, but it is what Japan thinks of when they consider where they got the new century right.